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East Region: Pull for (former) USF assistants here

Jalen Brunson of  Villanova celebrates his 3-pointer against Providence during the Big East tournament title game. [Getty Images]
Jalen Brunson of Villanova celebrates his 3-pointer against Providence during the Big East tournament title game. [Getty Images]
Published Mar. 12, 2018
Updated Mar. 12, 2018

Team to beat

Villanova won the Big East and has just four losses this season — forward Mikal Bridges is a future lottery pick who's hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers. Inside, watch freshman Omari Spellman (6-9, 245) and outside, guard Jalen Brunson (Rick's son) leads the way with 19.4 points per game. The Wildcats play in Pittsburgh and Boston, so they're never far from home on their path to San Antonio.

Upset alert

Few teams are as sink-or-swim as Virginia Tech, which has beaten Virginia, UNC and Duke, but also lost to a 17-16 Saint Louis team and fell in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. Alabama's much the same — 15 losses, but a future star in freshman guard Collin Sexton, who averaged 19 points. Whichever emerges from the opening round gets a shot at top seed Villanova.

Upset alert, part 2

Stephen F. Austin is only a No. 14 seed, but it's playing in Dallas, much closer to campus than No. 3 Texas Tech. What's more, the Lumberjacks led the nation in both steals (10.3) and turnovers forced (19.9) per game. Texas Tech committed 12.5 turnovers per game, and it will need to hold onto the ball to avoid the early upset.

Bull relocation

USF basketball as a springboard to NCAA Tournament success? This regional has three former USF assistants — Steve Roccaforte is the associate head coach for Virginia Tech, Greg Gary is on the staff with second-seeded Purdue, and Jeremy Cox is now at Stephen F. Austin.

Obscure local

Radford has to win in Dayton just to make it to the field of 64, but their bench has a local in forward Tristan Owens, who played the previous two seasons at St. Petersburg College. He helped win a state junior college championship, but has just 11 points in his first year at Radford in limited playing time.

Gators obstacles

Florida won't know its opponent until after the First Four in Dayton, where St. Bonaventure and UCLA square off. The Bruins have guard Aaron Holiday, who has brothers Justin (Bulls) and Jrue (Pelicans) in the NBA and leads the team with 20.3 points per game. Can we predict overtime? UCLA has played five overtime games this season, going 2-3, including a double-overtime loss at Stanford.

Marshall vs. Marshall

Wichita State is a No. 4 seed for coach Gregg Marshall, who goes up against his namesake, where he worked as an assistant from 1996-98 in his last stop before becoming a head coach. Marshall's roster is a mix of in-state players (eight) and very-out-of-state, with players from Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzagovina.

Big brother's watching

Berkeley Prep alumnus Justin Gray, a fixture in Texas Tech's starting lineup the past two years, is trying to become the second member of his immediate family to reach a Sweet 16. Older brother Jonathan (also a Berkeley alum) guided Cornell to the NCAA's second weekend in 2010. Gray, who led Berkeley to the Class 4A state tournament as a senior, possesses modest numbers (5.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg) but has started all 33 games for the Red Raiders.

Related: Full NCAA bracket here